Giggs scandal boils over
Fergie fumes as furore threatens final run-in
The Ryan Giggs injunction controversy threatened to undermine Manchester United's preparations for Saturday's Champions League final yesterday, as the player was withdrawn from training and a masked gang attacked photographers' cars outside his house.
Giggs' absence from Carrington yesterday morning did not succeed in removing the issue, with Alex Ferguson reacting so badly to a question about the 37-year-old's value against Barcelona that he told his press secretary the inquisitor would be banned from Friday's pre-match press conference at Wembley. "We'll get him. We'll ban him on Friday," Ferguson said.
United accept that they can do no such thing. Friday's is a Uefa-run event beyond Ferguson's authority. But the manager's antipathy to a footballing question -- albeit one designed to elicit a comment relevant to the controversy -- was followed six hours later by the gang arriving in a Ford Transit van to throw eggs and flour at journalists and vandalise six cars.
Giggs made a 30-minute appearance at Gary Neville's testimonial against Juventus last night where he set up Wayne Rooney's opener in a game the Italians won 2-1, but his manager's response to the events of the past 72 hours suggests that he feels that they could destabilise United's preparations if he allows it to.
The Giggs press conference question -- about the value of having a player of such experience available to play against Barcelona -- was put by the Associated Press's Rob Harris, an experienced journalist known for his willingness to raise the difficult issues, and was the third of the day at Carrington.
"All the players are important, every one of them," Ferguson replied, then asked his press secretary, Karen Shotbolt, for the identity of the questioner, in an aside which was caught by the microphones. After establishing from her that this journalist would be seeking attendance on Friday, Fergie replied that he would be banned.
Giggs has shown no superficial signs of the strain surrounding his legal battle with reality TV star Imogen Thomas in recent weeks. He was convivial with those journalists he recognised at Manchester Airport en route to United's semi-final match in Schalke on April 26 and was the only player willing to stop to talk at any length to the daily press reporters, after United's second-leg win took them to Wembley.
But United, whose detailed preparations for Saturday's game have left Ferguson believing there is "a solution" to the problem of Lionel Messi, know that distractions could be fatal. Both Rio Ferdinand and captain Nemanja Vidic acknowledged yesterday that a key part of their task would be the psychological one -- of not allowing Barcelona to get under their skin with gamesmanship.
"We have to focus and concentrate and then it won't be a big deal to handle the things that we know will come," said Vidic in a discussion of the controversy surrounding the Catalans' semi-final first-leg against Real Madrid.
"Obviously their players have a different mentality to us, but it won't be a problem to deal with these things. They may do things and argue more than they should do but it won't affect us. The referee for the game will probably be the best referee around. I think he can cope with that."
The referee has not yet been selected, though Ferdinand said it was incumbent on the United players to realise that gamesmanship was the continental way. "I just think that some people do that," he said. "It is the way the game has gone nowadays. It wasn't just Barca, Real Madrid were doing the same."
Ferguson - who last night confirmed the signing of Atletico Madrid goalkeeper David De Gae - is confronted with a central dilemma of how attacking his side should be. Though he has tended to deploy a solitary striker in away games in Europe, he does appear tempted by the more combative option of both Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney. "It's not just about Barcelona, it's about us too, what's best for us and the best way of winning the match," Ferguson said. "It will be down to how we operate the attacking part."
Michael Owen also pointed out the dangers of too defensive a set-up. "When you have players of their quality, you just invite them to keep coming," Owen said. "Okay you have flooded your own box with bodies, but one ricochet, and you are in that defensive mindset and then it's hard to go and chase a game."
Regrouping after an early setback is likely to be one of the "scenarios" Ferdinand said yesterday that the United players had been focusing on. His manager said of the 2009 final defeat in Rome: "When we lost the first goal it was that sudden lapse of concentration in terms of regrouping after we'd lost the ball. That's what cost us really. Then after they went through with Messi running midfield, which made it very difficult."
Ferdinand said United knew the central defence would have to "do things we don't normally do" on Saturday. "We play against one or two strikers, traditionally, but this time we might have no one around us for long periods yet they will still be as dangerous." (© Independent News Service)